It’s an old saw that if you want to be a writer, you must do two things: write a lot and read a lot. I’ll add one more to the list if you want to be a successful writer: build relationships.
As a writer, some of the most beneficial relationships you can have are with booksellers. You may think getting your novels in a bricks-and-mortar store is impossible if you’re an indie or small press author, but that isn’t true. It may take more of an upfront investment of money and time to do it on your own, but it’s so worth it.
My favourite local bookstore is McNally Robinson Booksellers. It’s a gorgeous book-lover’s haven, where you could easily spend a month without ever getting bored. Since my very first visit, it’s been my dream to hold a book launch there, and get my photo on the wall with the other “real” authors.
The first opportunity I had to read at McNally was ChiSeries, a national series of readings by speculative fiction writers. While I was there, I met two incredible people (shout out to events coordinator John Toews (pictured above) and bookseller Dana Krawchuk) who did everything they could to make the event a success. Booksellers are the easiest people for you to make friends with, writers: they’re smart, well-read, and they love books as much or more than you do. And, like you, they depend upon the written word for their livelihood. What’s not to love?
When my publicist arranged for my double-book launch to take place at McNally a year or so later, I was beyond thrilled. And, once again, John and Dana were there to make sure the biggest day of my life was also my best. I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me. I was treated like a VIP, and I showed my gratitude with an edible bouquet of fruit and chocolate and as many thank you’s as they could possibly stand.
In return? Wow. From hitting their best-sellers list to being prominently recommended on their social media channels and featured in their newest store, my relationship with McNally continues to be nothing short of life changing. When international best-selling thriller author Karin Slaughter launched two books here, John asked me to be the host and interview her on stage. My jaw hit the floor. Me? When I needed a testimonial for a writer-in-residence dream job, he wrote me the most beautiful letter of reference. The support and encouragement I’ve received from McNally’s staff is truly priceless.
Why am I telling you this? Because you too can make friends with your local booksellers. Here’s what I did:
1) Be a nice person. Seriously. It’s not that hard. Learn their names, be friendly, say hello, get to know them as much as you can without being annoying. Want a conversation opener? Ask them about the books they love.
2) Be grateful. Thank them. Repeatedly. If they’re hand-selling your books, or organizing a launch, or including you in a display, they’re doing you a massive favour. John may say otherwise, but I don’t think it’s possible to thank them too much for that. I’ve included both John and Dana in the acknowledgements of my latest book.
3) Be respectful. If you’re bringing in books for them to sell, don’t use an Amazon box, even if you ordered them from Createspace. When you contact them via email, make sure booksellers other than Amazon are in your signature line, or feature your friendly neighbourhood bookstore prominently. Make them feel like the rockstars they are.
4) Reciprocate. What can you do for them? Booksellers are always looking for ways to get more people in the door. Can you create a program for them? Teach a free class? Host a reading? A book signing? If it’s Independent Booksellers Day, is there something you can do to help them celebrate? Just the fact that you offer to help will make you stand out, even if they don’t take you up on it.
5) Be genuine. I give the above tips with the caveat that they all must come from a genuine place. Make friends with booksellers you like as people, without hope of getting anything in return. Don’t be one of those slimy used-car salespeople posing as writers, on the lookout for people they can turn on the fake charm with. I’ve met authors like that, and they’re as subtle as a glaring neon sign. Whenever anyone does something kind for me, I’m legitimately thankful and somewhat blown away–I never come across like I’m entitled to it, because I honestly don’t feel that I am.
Next month I’ll continue this post with amazing tips from two more phenomenal independent booksellers, Maryelizabeth Yturraide and R.J. Crowther Jr., both from Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, California. They had such great advice that they needed their own post!
What’s your favourite indie bookstore? What’s the nicest thing they’ve done for you? How have you made friends with your local booksellers?
The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.